BY KAREN ALBERG GROSSMANJUL 11, 2022
Although few of us admit it, we all need a bit of a refresh every so often, be it a simple touch-up or a major reinvention. St Johns Bay Rum, a heritage fragrance brand founded in 1947 by U.S. naval officer Captain John Webb in St Thomas Virgin Islands, has always been famous for its classic bay rum scent (“Smell like you’re on vacation!”) and its iconic hand-woven palm frond bottles. A company with truly differentiated product and a genuine 75-year heritage would seem to have few problems but soon after St Johns Bay Rum was sold in 2016 to the Welles brothers, who immediately invested back into the business, their small-batch factory and offices in St Thomas were wiped out by two hurricanes in five days.
And then came Covid! St Johns Bay Rum CEO Rhys Moore admits to a few tough years but is excited about the company’s recent upgrades, powerful new packaging, and strengthened retailer partnerships. “We thought it was time to freshen up our shelf appeal, so we hired an agency to upgrade and rebrand. At first, our retail clients eschewed the idea of boxes since they liked showing off the hand-woven palm frond bottles. But our new packaging adds an upscale element and allows us to tell our story and discuss each individual fragrance on the back of the box.”
Other facets of the upgrade: new labels and textured paper wraps, all recyclable, as are the iconic palm fronds, hand-woven by local craftspeople. “We’re also moving from plastic caps to wooden caps, which should be complete by September,” says Moore, adding that although using wood triples the price of the caps, the company is absorbing most cost increases. “Freight has tripled, glass is three times what it was; we know we’re not going back to 2020 costs but our retailers have been surprisingly understanding. Some even told us they already raised their retails because they didn’t think our suggested retails were high enough!” Editor’s note: new prices give retailers a 56+ percent gross margin on the 4-ounce size ($60 retail) and 60 percent ($80 retail) on the 8-ounce bottle.
Also important to the DNA of the brand is its long-time commitment to the Caribbean islands and a new focus on directing business to its retail partners. In addition to their clean distribution (independent specialty stores, interesting apothecaries, and certain cool boutiques) and tight controls on pricing, their website continues to list and add new retail partners, most recently M.S.McClellan in Knoxville, The Squire Shop in Fort Worth, Nic’s Toggery in Tallahassee, and Black Tie in Oklahoma City. For the record, best-selling fragrances are still Classic Bay Rum and West Indian Lime but the more modern scents (No. 77 and Vetiver, more sophisticated but still island-y) are catching up fast.